Talking Healthy Habits with Kids: A Dietitian Shares Her Strong4Life Secrets!

February 23, 2015

As a public health dietician with Fulton County’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, Greta Sebestyen, MS, RD, LD, knows a thing or two about helping families make changes for a healthier lifestyle.

But as we all know, change is hard – especially when it comes to kids!

"I was getting a lot of resistance from moms when talking with them about their child's high body mass index or BMI," Sebestyen said. "Sometimes there was denial there was even a problem, and sometimes they’d just tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. Either way, they were not making any changes. I needed tools to help me communicate effectively with these moms."

Working with the Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) WIC program and Georgia Shape, the Governor’s childhood obesity initiative, Strong4Life created training and tools to equip providers with advanced skills needed to promote healthy behaviors to WIC clients in an informative and encouraging manner.

“After partnering with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to train physicians with this content, we realized how effective it was and wanted to arm other providers with the same tools and resources,” said Emily Anne Vall, Ph.D., Georgia Shape project manager. “We were all very excited about the project and worked to create a program that would align messages across the state to reach populations that really benefit from this work.”

Through the Strong4Life training, WIC providers are educated on evidence-based counseling strategies such as SMART goal setting and motivational interviewing – two skills that complement each other when helping clients implement positive health behaviors that meet their personal lifestyle needs.

“The Strong4Life provider training has become an excellent resource for WIC providers throughout Georgia,” said Barbara Stahnke, MEd, RD, LD, nutrition program specialist, Program Operations and Nutrition Office, Georgia WIC program. “The training provides them with expertise on counseling and communication strategies to guide their discussions about health and wellness. Furthermore, it assists WIC in meeting our statewide program requirement of providing Value Enhanced Nutrition Education (VENA) established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Since participating in Strong4Life's provider training, Sebestyen has now earned the title of WIC Champion. As a WIC Champion, Sebestyen helps increase utilization of Strong4Life’s training principles by offering technical support and guidance to other WIC providers throughout the state.

Sebestyen says it doesn't take an advanced degree to talk to your kids about healthy habits. Here are a few tips she learned from her Strong4Life training that anyone can use at home:

  • Start with the Strong4Life Healthy Habits – eat right, be active, get support and have fun. It is simple, easy to remember and truly displays the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle for kids of any age.
  • Choose your words carefully. Instead of using words like "diet" or "overweight," Sebestyen finds focusing on adding things that make you healthier (like fruits and veggies and exercise) lowers resistance to change.
  • Look and listen. These are two of your best tools for success: "Ask your kids what their favorite foods are. Take note if they seem to love apples and carrots then offer those healthy options often,” she says.
  • Outline your new healthy habits for all your child's caretakers. This keeps your child’s options consistent while at home and away.
  • Make it fun! Sebestyen says making healthy changes can actually be fun for your kids! "Get creative – grab a water bottle with a favorite cartoon character and fill it up, go roller skating as a family, create veggie art on your dinner plate," she says. "If your kids see you having fun with it, they'll join in!
  • Consistency is key. With any change you may face resistance, but Sebestyen says stick with it and your persistence will pay off. "Just keep offering the healthy options and eventually even the pickiest eater will get on board."

For more information about Strong4Life, please visit www.strong4life.com. To learn more about Georgia Shape and DPH’s WIC program, visit www.GeorgiaShape.org or www.dph.ga.gov/WIC

About the Author

You might like...

November 30, 2017

The American Public Health Association (APHA) has awarded the WIC on Wheels program, in the West Central Health District, with the Milton and Ruth Roemer Prize. This award was presented to Beverley Townsend, M.D., health director for the West Central Health District, during APHA’s annual meeting in Atlanta.

May 4, 2015

The Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) LaGrange Health District is cooking up healthy, affordable and delicious meals for local families through Cooking Matters, a program led by Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign.

Spearheading the Cooking Matters program, managed by the Georgia Coalition for Physical Activity and Nutrition (GPAN), is Health Promotion Coordinator Beth Daniel. Daniel has partnered with GPAN to train WIC nutritionists and dietetic interns on healthy shopping and cooking skills they can impart to their program participants.

March 30, 2015

Want to know if good health and quality of life are in your future? No need to call a psychic or have your palm read; simply consult your nearest registered dietitian (RD) to discuss your eating pattern.